Bangali Culture is perceived as enlightenment and excellence of taste in fine arts, humanities and knowledge, but in broader terms, it is an integrated pattern of human knowledge, behaviour, beliefs, customs, morals, conventions, shared attitudes, social organisation and achievements. Anthropologically, culture is a complex idea. Since all cultures are unique in origin, development, value system and organisation, one particular culture differs from another both in outline, expression and essence. Bangali culture is the outcome of the accumulation and synthesis of many different ethnic and religious groups and subgroups and varied classes interacting and influencing each other for centuries. The coexistence and continuation of disparate elements of culture for centuries have created a unique Bangaliness, which can be identified as Bangali culture, and defined as the culture of "Bengal" and of the Bengali speaking people.
Basis of Bangali Culture Since Bangali culture is the culture of Bangla and or of the Bangali-speaking people, it cannot, at least theoretically, date back to earlier than when Bengal came to be known as one single administrative unit or before Bangla emerged as a full fledged language. However, inevitably Bangali culture did not take shape as soon as the area came to be called "Bangala" or the Bangla language developed its main traits. It was, indeed, a natural development over thousands of years of the culture of the people of the area, which took the name Bangala when the kingdoms of this region, namely, Gour, Rarh, Dakshin Rarh, Suhma, Varendri, Harikel, Samatat and Banga, were unified into one country by Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah in the 1350s. As well as this political change, the bangla language developed into proper Bangla more or less around the same time. Therefore, Bangali culture can be said to be approximately eight hundred years, or at best one thousand years old, but it was primarily based on the culture of this region, which was thousands of years old. For example, rice, which is still the staple food of the Bangalis, was first cultivated at least three thousand years before the advent of the Aryans to this region; and it continued to be cultivated later even when Bengal was swept away by a host of invaders, including the Aryans, Turks, Arabs, Afghans, Mughals and Europeans.
Main traits Despite Bangali culture having strong affinities with that of the rest of South Asia; it has a uniqueness accentuated by the diversity of the geographical features and ethnicity. Bengal is located on the periphery of the subcontinent ' many hundred miles away from Delhi, the centre of imperial administration for centuries. As a result, it acquired a quality of elasticity and autonomy. The religions, ideas, cultural trends and administrative novelties that reached its periphery soon acquired a unique Bangaliness. The ecological system of Bengal characterised by its mighty rivers and crisscross tributaries and forests contributed to the rise of subcultures within the region. Religious and caste divisions as well as many regional languages again, highlighted the sub-cultural traits.'
Because Bengal belonged to the outside edge of major religions like hinduism, buddhism, Jainism and Islam, no religion reached the zone in its original form. Consequently, a cultural syncretism invariably developed between the alien and host cultures. Thus Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam in Bengal have a great deal of commonalities in rites and social practices. For instance, Hieun Tsang, the seventh century Chinese traveller, recorded how various religions and communities in Bengal shared doctrines, rites and rituals belonging to each other, and how the Buddhism as practised in Bengal had drifted significantly away from the original.
Settlement and Ethnicity Except the upper and middle Gangetic Valley, the rest of eastern India was initially very thinly populated. There are reasons to believe that 'village' as a unit of human settlement was not possibly very strong until the Sultani regime, when population increased noticeably. There is no mention of villages in the earliest surviving samples of Bangla literature,charyapadas, which date back from the tenth century. For security and production, people possibly lived in community settlements called purs and nagars. Such a settlement pattern must have significantly contributed to the rise of a culture suitable for semi-urban settlements of feudal bias. Anthropologically, most Bangalis belonged to the ethnic group called Austro-Asiatic, but there is also a Dravidian presence. Apart from these two groups, Bangalis have a large segment of people of Tibeto-Chinese and of Semitic origins.'
Social organisation Bangali society has always been patriarchal and hierarchical in character. It is not known exactly what the social structure was like before the advent of the Aryans, but it is quite certain that there was little or no rigid caste system during pre-Aryan period. Even after the arrival of the Aryans, it continued to be less strict among the lower strata of society and, later, among Muslims, who arrived early in the thirteenth century. Aryans had brought with them a strict caste system, which divided society vertically into four layers, namely, Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. While Brahmans were the most revered, most influential and smallest group, Shudras constituted by far the largest segment of society, and was placed at the bottom of the social ladder. Highly divisive, the caste system was a built-in inequality, which was not just religious in nature, but also had strong social implications, since it meant a division of labour and, in effect, a codified class distinction. It was also directly related to the question of segregation of castes; the lowest caste being considered untouchable.
There is a lack of presence of the Kshatriyas in Bengal. The Vaixyas, along with some others, took the name of Kayastha. In addition, there sprang a caste called the Vaidya, a name associated with the occupation of healing. Although theoretically Buddhists and Muslims did not have any caste system, in practice they also maintained an informal caste system. During and after the Senas, Buddhists were categorised as Shudras and were popularly called Nera (meaning the people with shaven heads). Later lower class Muslims were also included in this category. On the contrary, Muslims themselves divided their society into two groups one upon another ' Ashrafs (ruling class) and Atrafs (the subordinate class). They were apparently so influenced by the system that they maintained this distinction even in the mosque, where the royals had an elevated platform. There was even no inter-dining and intermarriage between the ashrafs and atrafs. The Shudras and rural Muslims formed the bulk of society and the majority of them were menial labourers, farmers and artisans.
The size of the family in medieval times appears to have been small even though not nuclear in character. In the nineteenth century, there emerged the joint family system among the relatively wealthy Hindus, especially, among the educated middle class and the landed gentry, which was partly one of the results of the permanent settlement (1793).
Religions and beliefs It seems that Hinduism and Buddhism made their way to Bengal roughly at the same time ' a few centuries before the birth of Christ, and gradually replaced and influenced the existing religions and beliefs of the land. The ruins of the archaeological site of Chandraketugarh suggest that Hindu kings established themselves quite early (c. 3rd to 2nd century BC) in the southwestern region of Bengal or Dakshin Rarh; on the other hand, the ruins of Mahasthangarh (c. 4th century BC) prove a strong Buddhist presence in northern Bengal or Varendri.
While the earliest recorded king of Bengal, Xaxanka, was a Hindu, and dates back to the seventh century AD, the Buddhist Pala dynasty was established in the eighth. A staunch supporter of Hinduism, not only did the former patronise Hinduism, but also afflicted the Buddhists; on the contrary, there is no evidence to indicate that the latter were hostile towards the Hindus, but they certainly promoted Buddhism for three centuries. "Bangali" Buddhists witnessed their most glorious era during the Pala regime. The Sena kings who ruled Bengal after the Palas, were themselves Hindu, and were strong supporters of Hinduism. There is, moreover, evidence to suggest that they oppressed the Buddhists. Consequently, the number of Buddhists and the cultivation of buddhism dramatically declined during the rule of the Senas. Besides, they tried to 'purify' Hinduism by reinforcing the caste system as well as by encouraging the cultivation of Sanskrit shastras and literature.
The Muslim invader, Bakhtiar Khilji, who replaced Laxmansena in 1204, and thus established the Muslim rule in Bengal, brought about another wave of change. Khilji was followed by many Muslim preachers who, with an amount of royal support, enthusiastically took the job of converting the local people. The extent of conversion to Islam during the first two centuries of Muslim rule is not clear, but the number of Buddhists continued to dwindle and the building of Hindu temples came to a halt. Whether Buddhists converted to Islam en mass to take shelter from the oppression of the Hindu hierarchical caste system which the Senas had strengthened is a matter of conjecture. There was also large-scale conversion among low caste Hindus to Islam. Despite innumerable forcible conversions, the social equality of Islam (however much a theoretical proposition) might have been the main reason for conversion.
During the following few centuries, Islam as a religion underwent a significant evolution as native people were attracted far more by Persian pirs and darveexes (religious gurus) who endeavoured to introduce a devotional aspect of Islam which was different from fundamentalist Islam advocated by Arab preachers. By the seventeenth century, Islam, like the earlier Buddhism and even Hinduism, took a syncretistic Bangali character and people from the lowest strata of society flocked to Islam in large numbers.
Along side conversion to Islam, reforms among the Hindus were taking place to save it from the onslaught of Islam - some, for example Devibar, tried to tighten its hierarchical caste system, and thereby protect the purity of Hinduism, but the popular trend was heading the opposite way. In the early sixteenth century, Chaitanyadev (1486-1533) introduced Vishnavism, a tenet based on devotion and love, and broke the barriers of the rigorous and oppressive caste system. Not only did this reform save Hinduism from the onslaught of Islam, but it also encouraged an unprecedented revival of Hinduism, and Vaishnavism continued to thrive for the following two centuries. Other obscurantist religious sects based on devotion to deity and the guru, with no caste restrictions, such as, Sahajiya, baul and Karta-bhaja sprang approximately at the same time. If there is any common feature among so many different religions of Bengal, it is this character of moderation and syncretism.
The Language A member of the Indo-European family of languages, Bangla was originally not the language of the area which later took the name of Bengal; it was brought in the form of Eastern Prakrit by the Aryans and in the form of pali by the Buddhists, which, through phonological and morphological evolution for centuries, took the shape of a separate language with its own grammatical features and vocabulary. Traces of this early language can be found in charyapada from the tenth century. However, at that time, Bangla was still very much mixed with Assamese and Oriya. It would be more accurate to say that in Charyapadas, one can see what can be called proto-Bangla. It is in sreekrishnakeertan (c.15th century) that the earliest specimens of a fully developed Bangla can be found. 'A wide range of other specimens of medieval literature also help to reconstruct the traits of early Bangla, even though original or authentic manuscripts of this literature have not been found ' the ones discovered so far were copied much later than when they were first composed; and samples of prose are all but nonexistent.
Since Bangla is based on Prakrit, the spoken and colloquial form of Sanskrit, the bulk of its vocabulary is made up of words of Sanskrit origin. However, the earlier languages of the land also left their marks in the form of a sizeable vocabulary and perhaps some grammatical features, including some verb-endings. The Muslim rule (1204-1757) left its impression on Bangla in two ways ' firstly, it introduced thousands of Arabic and Persian words to everyday Bangla and secondly, it patronised the cultivation of Bangla, so long neglected by Hindu kings and hated by Brahmans. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries some Portuguese words also made their way into Bangla. Another significant wave of new words swept Bangla during the British colonial period. Besides towards the beginning of this period, the British even encouraged the cultivation of Bangla perhaps with a view to replacing Persian, the then court language, with Bangla. At present, Perso-Arabic elements as well as English words have become an integral part of Bangla. More significantly, English remarkably influenced its sentence structure, which remained unchanged for centuries; Bangla punctuation marks, apart from the full stop, were also imported from English. As well as other aspects of Bangali culture, the Bangla language shows its obvious strength of absorption and assimilation.
As a result of the establishment of the printing press and the growth of formalised institutions and work style, the late eighteenth century saw the development of a formal and written prose.'
Literature The rich heritage of Bangali literature is almost a thousand years old, if the language of Charyapadas is regarded as primitive Bangla. Like all other literatures, Bangla began with religious poetry, or more accurately, with devotional songs. From the days of Charyapadas to the bulk of medieval literature was mostly Theo-centric and that includes Buddhist, Hindu and even Muslim literature.
During the medieval period, however, there were some exceptional examples of Romantic literature, created by Muslim poets, such as Shah Muhammed Sageer, Doulat Kazi and Alaol. Hindu poets, at that time, were only able to convey their personal Romantic feelings, emotions and experiences allegorically through Vaishnava literature, which was primarily based on the love between Radha and Krishna. Until the nineteenth century, Bangali poets rarely ever expressed or exposed themselves.
With the rise of sufism and such devotional sects as the Vaishnava, Sahajiya, Baul, Karta-bhaja and Sakhibhabak, there emerged a number of new deities like Satya-pir / Satya Narayan, and Dakshinaray / Bada Khan Gazi, and a parallel stream of syncretistic Bangla literature, which was characterised by a Bengaliness never seen before ' at a time when gods and goddesses were about to appear in the garb of humans.
It was at the instance of English literature that Bangali poets and prose writers put across humanity as well as their private emotions and passions through their writings in the nineteenth century; this points towards the most important shift from God to Man, which in effect changed the very nature of literature. Indeed it was the emergence of a Renaissance literature which was contributed to by men like akshaykumar datta, ishwar chandra vidyasagar, michael madhusudan dutt, bankim chandra chattopadhyay and rabindranath tagore. When dealing with ancient Hindu mythology, the first two reinterpreted it and gave a human face to even gods and goddesses as did the latter two in a slightly different style.
During the nineteenth century, with the spread of formal education and establishment of the press, Bangla literature experienced an outburst of creativity, never before experienced at this scale. However this positive development also meant a sharp decline in the cultivation of folk literature, which had flourished in medieval times. Moreover, the development of this urban literature was uneven among Hindus and Muslims, as the latter lagged far behind the other in both Bangla and English education. Since the end of the nineteenth century, this gap was narrowed to a degree by a host of Muslim poets and prose writers, including meer mosharraf hussain, nazrul islam and jasimuddin.
Another momentous development was of literary forms. Whereas in medieval Bangla literature only narrative poems were written, the nineteenth century saw the introduction of forms borrowed from the West, for example, epic poetry, sonnets, lyric poetry, dramas, novels, short stories and non-fiction. Bangla literature, in the twentieth century, attained newer heights to reach world standard, particularly in the hands of rabindranath tagore.
As well as its decline, folk literature was, for the first time, brought to a wider reading public by enthusiastic men like Rabindranath Tagore, dinesh chandra sen, Chandra Kumar De and by a number of researchers. This gave the educated and urban people the opportunity to become aware of the richness and beauty of folk literature. The invention of technology in the twentieth century also unfolded the invaluable treasure of folk music.
Bengal being predominantly rural, its literature, although influenced to a degree by Sanskrit and Persian literature, was until the middle of the colonial rule, folk in nature. It was English education that gave it an urban character. This folksy trend continued, even if in a weaker form, in the nineteenth and even twentieth centuries. Deeply rooted in the village, Bangalis still look back to rural Bengal and this is reflected in their literature, for example in the writings of jibananada das, Bibhuti Kumar Bandyopadhyaya, jasimuddin or that of Al Mahmud and in many a novel and play.
Performing arts Like its literature, Bangla music has a rich heritage too; Charyapadas and much of the medieval poetry were originally composed as songs. Each of the Charyapadas (also Xreekrishnakeertan) mentions, at the beginning, the name of a raga (tune) and tala (rhythm) in which it was to be rendered. These names, for example, Gour and Bangal and later Bhatiyali, suggest that Bengal had developed its own school of classical as well as folk music by that time. A synthesis of classical and folk music, keertans, Bengal's own brand of devotional songs, were created and given their standard form by medieval Vaishnava singers. Yet another of Bengal's own variety of devotional songs was created by the obscurantist religious sect, called the Baul; one of the most important exponents of this genre being lalon SHAH (1774-1890). Baul songs are well known for their simplicity and beauty, and remain popular even in the early twenty-first century. Other genres of folk songs, including Bhatiyali, Bhawaiya, Kabigan and Jarigan, have also retained their popularity.
It was in the early nineteenth century that Bengal saw the rise of its own school of classical music in the form of tappa and akhrai, and the development of Bangla dhrupada. It also acquired new musical instruments from Europe, especially the violin as well as the organ, which was adapted into what is now called the harmonium. Like Bangla literature, Bangla music experienced an outburst of creativity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A number of noted musicians and lyricists like nidhu gupta, girish chandra ghosh, Rabindranath Tagore, dwijendralal ray, atulprasad sen and Nazrul Islam made the most important contributions to Bangla music during the colonial rule. Like all other elements of the Bangali culture, nineteenth century Bangla music also has a Bangali character, which is noticeably different from Indian music.
There is hardly any mention of instrumentalists in the medieval literature of Bengal. Bengal started producing its own instrumentalists in the middle of the nineteenth century. The twentieth century saw not only a rise in, but also a prominence of Bangali instrumentalists with alauddin khan and his disciples including Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, at the helm. In the early twentieth century Bengali vocalists also created a new form of classical music which was named ragpradhan or semi-classical. However the most important variety that emerged and became extremely popular in the middle of the twentieth century is known as adhunik gan or modern songs, broadly based on a fusion of classical ragas, folk music and western music. Rabindranath Tagore successfully created this genre, which was later transformed significantly in the hands of Nazrul Islam, Pabkaj Mallik, Salil Chowdhury and others. However, two of the traits of Tagore songs are still followed by other composers and lyricists, namely the four tuks (movements) and rich verbosity.
From Geetagovinda and Xrikrishnakeertan it appears that Bengal had, in the medieval period, a form of musical play. Besides, the yatra or open air 'theatre' also developed during that period. Chaitanyadeva is said to have taken part in one such performance. With the development of bangla prose in the eighteenth century, yatras began to contain more dialogue than songs and storylines began to acquire a more dramatic character. Bangalis would possibly have remained content with these yatras for an indefinite period, but the establishment of two commercial theatres in Kolkata by the English in the late eighteenth century offered them an example to follow. The imagination of the Bangalis was further stirred by Gerasim Lebedeff, a Russian expatriate living in Kolkata, when he translated an English play into Bangla and had it staged by hired Bangali actors and actresses in late 1795 and early 1796 in a private theatre, which he had built for this purpose. This might have inspired men like Prasanna Kumar Tagore and Nabin Basu to put up their own private theatres in the 1830s.
However, it was not until 1852 that the first ever Bangla play was published. It quickly followed by many other publications. In the meantime, by 1857 private theatre houses were built by some Kolkata elites and Bangla plays, especially social satires, began to be performed. As these theatres took off vigorously and attracted an increasing number of spectators, the necessity of a public stage was badly felt in educated society. The first public stage, under the name the National Theatre, was thus set up in December 1872 with the performance of dinabandhu mitra's popular play, Neeldarpan, which was based on the oppression of cultivators by indigo planters. Several others soon sprung up, including the Hindu National Theatre, Bengal Theatre and Great National Theatre. The longest surviving theatre, called the star, was founded, not long afterwards, in 1883 by girish chandra ghosh and binodini dasi.
The twentieth century witnessed a rapid rise of Bangla theatre and cinema, and more recently television. Even though Bangla plays are yet to attain world standard, Bangla cinema, particularly, the extraordinary films made by satyajit roy, have been acclaimed by critics everywhere. Due to many factors, the cinema in Bangladesh as a mode of culture is still much behind those of West Bengal. Since the late 1940s, Bangla theatre has made great strides with the establishment of the Bahurupee Group Theatre and publication of such plays as Nabanna. The theatre in Bangladesh, a form not much appreciated in Muslim society, however, suddenly became popular two decades later after the independence.
Over centuries, Bangali culture attained refinement and sophistication as well as an urban, and even an international trait, but Bangali speaking people are still moved by folk elements primarily. Its folk literature, folk music, folk dance, folk-theatre etc coupled with devotional themes reflect the true tune of the Bangali mind.'
British Colonial Rule Political changes from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century was fundamentally a change of regime from the Hindus to that of Muslims, but it did not affect fundamentally the traditional character of Bangali society. However, British colonial rule changed the very essence of the social structure. Although, following the permanent settlement (1793), the unofficial 'rule' by the landed gentry over the subjects continued, Bengal saw the development of capitalism in all its manifestation - trading, commerce, manufacturing industries and service industry, including merchants, money-lenders and civil servants, to cater for needs of the colonial rule.
In the process, however, the most significant development was that of formal education; with the establishment of structured schools, colleges and universities, printing of text-books and all the like. These developments were something entirely new, something that Bengal had never seen before. The British, however, established new education structure not for the benefit of the native population, but for manning its service industry. Whatever gains the native people made from it was as a by-product, not because of it. The colonial administration aimed everything at reinforcing its own interests by exploitation. Even then it shook the very roots of Bangali society and culture.
It is doubtful if Bengal ever had a middle class, let alone an educated middle class; but British rule gave birth one. Again this development took place because of colonial needs, as transferring of capital from the colony to the core and running the administration required the creation of a native middle class consisting, on the one hand, of a landed gentry and traders; on the other, those of civil servants and educated people. This educated and the landed middle classes started shaping and advancing the rural culture of Bengal into what it is in recent times. The rule of secular law, the development and spread of a liberal English education which was entirely different from the earlier religious education, the influence of western ideas, urbanisation and technology ' everything helped in the formation of the modern Bangali mind.
This environment opened up more opportunities to all enterprising people from dwarakanath tagore to radhakanta dev to ishwar chandra vidyasagar's father, Thakurdas Bandyopadhay, who came to Kolkata around 1810 and got a job on a salary of just two rupees. There would not have been a Vidyasagar if colonial rule had not offered new opportunities. The same applies to Radhakanta Dev, a Shudra, who ultimately became the leader of the Kolkata elite, including Brahmins.
As already mentioned, the caste system did not only have a religious implication, but it had a far greater influence on social structure. It defined and perpetuated what occupation an individual could pursue; it expected a fisherman's descendents to be fishermen from one generation to another; similarly a sweeper, a barber, a weaver, a Vaidya and a Brahmin to follow their respective caste occupation. The colonial rule transformed this rigid system and offered unrestricted social mobility which held true for rural Muslims as well. It was because of their loyalty towards caste occupation that they did not, at first, go for an English education and thus grab new opportunities ' their main occupation for generations having been work associated with agriculture. This also explains why, along with lower caste Hindus, they remained at the bottom of the social ladder, far behind educated upper caste Hindus.
Although Bangali society developed unevenly and only its upper segment benefited from the advantages offered by the colonial rule, the nineteenth century witnessed an explosion of creativity in most aspects of Bangali society and culture, particularly its language, literature, performing arts, architecture, religious and social reform, and even economic activities. Only two important manifestations of renaissance did not find their expressions in Bengal ' painting and sculpture. The six century long Muslim rule might have been partly responsible for this, as Muslim sultans did not encourage any visual form of art, except calligraphy. Moreover, architecture had a limited development in the sense that it was not revival or renaissance as such, it was rather an introduction to western style architecture, particularly centring Kolkata. There were no ancient models such as those of Greek or Roman architecture in Bengal; the Buddhists architecture in the form of monasteries was the oldest example of Bangali architecture and was all but replaced by Muslim sultans who, instead, introduced the Persian and Delhi styles. The British came with an altogether different style and had opportunities of introducing it in the villages that later turned into the city of Kolkata.
Popularly called the bengal renaissance and created by the Hindu landed and educated middle classes, this phenomenon was momentous as well as epoch making. It was during this Renaissance that Bangalis were influenced by new values such as secularism, rationalism, liberalism and individualism, in short, modernism; later it also gave birth to nationalism. Bengal Renaissance was, however incomplete since it did not find its expression in art and architecture; and nor were the largest section of Bangali society consisting of Muslims and lower caste Hindus affected by it immediately. However this enlightenment later permeated them as well to an extent.
Western ideas also influenced everyday life and social institutions such as marriage and family. Hitherto women were kept illiterate and secluded; and marriage was merely an institution for raising a family. English education altered these traditional male values, first in cities and towns; as a result, female education was introduced and their seclusion relaxed; even their clothing style transformed radically. In short, Bangali urban women were somewhat modernised. The idea of romantic love became increasingly popular and was later accepted quietly by society, even though it did not become the norm. This affected the husband-wife relationship, which was now based on mutual love, thus elevating the status of women in family. From the present condition of women, which is, at least among the educated and urban society, fair; it is almost impossible to imagine what their condition was like in the early nineteenth century. In the changed scenario, women in general play a significant role in the family, society and even economy. The exodus of educated Hindus from East Bengal following the 1947 Partition and the creation of an independent Bangladesh advanced their status even further by offering them greater opportunities to play social and economic roles.
Developments since the Partition of 1947 The two communities, Hindus and Muslims, lived side by side in harmony and peace, although they did not inter-dine or intermarry, yet lived in villages as large families, developing a kind of village brotherhood in the process. However, during British rule there was a noticeable polarisation of these two communities, partly because of the British policy of "divide and rule" and partly because of the uneven development in these communities. Consequently, sectarian relationship between Hindus and Muslims suffered; hatred and suspicion grew between them, and from 1926 onward there were even outbreaks of violence; it finally led to the partition of Bengal, which, in effect, meant a permanent division of Bangali culture and society on the basis of religious nationalism.
Until the nineteenth century, Bangalis did not have a great deal of interest in either politics or country; in medieval times, for instance, mukundaram chakrabati's Chandimabgal suggests many of them did not know the name of the sultan, and, more importantly, they did not care about who the sultan was. In the predominantly rural culture, people also had little interest in life beyond their rural setting. Most people lived their entire life within a radius of a couple of miles. Participation of the people in governance was a gift of the British rule; the ultimate result of which was the Partition of 1947.
Even though the Partition permanently divided Bengal as well as its two largest segments of society resulting in reinforcing sectarianism, it had a positive influence on the Muslim community in East Pakistan. With the large-scale migration of Hindus to West Bengal following the Partition and sectarian riots of 1950, Muslims, so far backward in education and business activities, suddenly found unlimited opportunities to grow in almost every sphere. Consequently, a Muslim middle class, mainly consisting of educated people and small traders, emerged in a relatively short period of time.'
East Pakistan however enjoyed little or no autonomy and was exploited as a colony by West Pakistan. Moreover there were attempts to impose Urdu on the Bangalis. This, coupled with the development of education, led to the language movement (1948-52), which had a tremendous influence on politics until the creation of an independent Bangladesh. More significantly, the mismatched marriage between the two wings of Pakistan created on the basis of religion only gave birth to an identity crisis; resulting in the rise, for the first time, of a secular Bangali nationalism among Bangali Muslims. In its turn, it greatly encouraged them to cultivate Bangla language and literature, which eventually gave rise to a Bangla literature of a slightly different flavour and diminished their traditional apathy towards the Hindus. In West Bengal too, as the competition for employment between Hindus and Muslims became less, the hatred and distrust between them declined in the decades following the Partition.
First the Partition and then the creation of an independent Bangladesh, as well as an unprecedented improvement of life saving drugs and vaccines, resulting in an explosion of population, had a profound influence on Bangali society. They led to an increase in unemployment and poverty as well as a large-scale migration of rural population to urban areas and to foreign countries, although until the end of the nineteenth century crossing the sea was considered taboo. For example, owing to a lack of employment in Bangladesh, there are currently more than five percent of its population working in other countries, mostly as unskilled and semi-skilled labourers. Parallel to these less educated labourers, there is also a large group of highly skilled professionals and scholars who work mainly in western countries as teachers, lawyers, civil servants etc. Many Bangalis have also set up trading and business industries with a great deal of success. Gone are the days when Bangalis were described by many as a home-bound and idle people. The independence of Bangladesh also saw an increasing number of entrepreneurs getting involved in the commerce and manufacturing industries, which itself is a new phenomenon in Muslim society.
The economic migration of the rural population to ever increasing urban centres has made the caste system weak, instead it has created strong class distinctions; in cities, for example, very wealthy people now live side by side with slum-dwellers, and the gap between the rich and poor is widening. The rate of literacy is rapidly growing and urban lifestyle is affecting not only city-dwellers, but filtering through villages as well; as the majority of the urban population have strong roots in villages. Consequently, all aspects of Bangali culture, including lifestyle are being increasingly influenced by an urban culture.
Improvements in every sphere of communication, including the cinema and electronic media, and the recent phenomenon of globalisation, are bringing disparate cultures closer to each other and having a unifying effect on religious and regional communities. Linguistically speaking, the standard colloquial is being ever more infiltrated by dialects and vice versa. Again, in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, the proportion of words associated with Muslim society is on the rise, as Hindi terminology is increasing in the Bangla of West Bengal. Bollywood Hindi films and serials are also progressively influencing some aspects of Bangali culture, including dress style and music. The change in dress style is limited, however, mainly among educated and urban women, who are taking up salwar and kameez and giving up the traditional sari, which even the six century long Muslim rule or the two century long British rule were unable to replace. These regimes, however, had a great deal of influence on male dress, particularly among the upper classes, as well as on food habits.
Cuisine although Bangalis are by tradition known for their staple food as 'bheto Bangali' or rice-eating Bangalis, there have been important changes in their food habits during the last half a century, when the poor had to accept the cheaper option of wheat instead of rice and the urban rich developed a growing interest in foreign food, including Western and Chinese. Hamburgers and hot-dogs, and the local variety of Chinese and Thai food are infiltrating urban society so much so that Bangali women themselves are preparing some of these items at home.
Even then, some items of food are still known as associated with the Bangalis. Women displayed great inventiveness in cooking and created these items, including sweets and pickles, which existed nowhere else in the rest of the subcontinent. The Bangalis are so well known for these very 'Bangali' sweets that Bangali culture has been jokingly described by Gopal Haldar as the 'culture of Rasagolla and Sandesh'. Some food items in different regions of Bengal also have subtle variations in taste and delicacies.'
Food habits of the Bangalis differ between Muslims and Hindus as well as between the rich and the poor. While upper class Muslims has a preference for meat, especially beef, the Hindus are more inclined to vegetables and fish. Only Hindus belonging to the Xhakta sect that were used to having meat. Among the poor, the food habits of the Hindus and Muslims were and still are more or less the same - they eat whatever they can find. From a reference in Charyapadas it seems even at that time most poor did not have enough rice. For the poor, the main food comprised of rice and spinach, occasionally they had fish and rarely meat. Later lentil became popular both among the rich and poor.
The cooking process also largely differs between Hindus and Muslims. Upper class Muslims who came from outside Bengal, had little love for the food cooked in the local style; they brought with them food which later came to be known as Mughlai and which did not permeate the whole of Muslim society until recently and hardly entered Hindu society. When the British brought with them items of western food, they also gained access, though slowly, in a segment of western educated people - both Hindus and Muslims.
Bengaliness Despite the wide and varied nature of Bangali culture, in particular modern Bangali culture, it nonetheless retains some of those traits which developed over centuries, or rather, over thousands of years. For example, Bangali women, despite a significant change in their dress and life style, can still easily be identified in a group of women from different parts of the subcontinent. In this increasingly busy lifestyle, Bangalis still prefer a relaxed life and are fond of addas or gossip in groups. They also are called hujuge or a people who take an instant decision as a group without considering its far reaching implications. In spite of significant modernisation, individuality has developed rather poorly among them. They are bound by strong kinship relations; with a small number of exceptions, marriages are arranged by parents, and premarital and extra marital love is a rarity. Although among rural masses poverty and landlessness are on the increase, among the urban rich and middle classes a culture of competition and bragging has strongly developed. A vast majority of Bangalis previously depended for their livelihood on agriculture; however, the explosion of population that took place in the twentieth century has led many of them to take up semi or unskilled jobs mainly in urban areas. Another important feature which can still be seen is that Bangalis in general believe in moderation and syncretism, therefore, they avoid the path of extremism. [Ghulam Murshid]
Bibliography SK Chatterji, Bangaleer Samskriti, Kolkata, 1998; Gopal Haldar, Gopal Haldarer Shrestha Prabandha, Kolkata, 1985; NR Ray, Bangaleer Itihas, De's Publishing, Kolkata, 2001; ME Haque, Bange Sufi Prabhab, Kolkata, 1935; Ghulam Murshid, Hajar Bachhorer Bangali Samskriti, Dhaka, 2006; sn ray, Bangalitwer Khonje O Anyanya Alochana, Kolkata, 2004.